Cheltenham Ante Post – National Hunt Chase Preview

Ceebee previews the 4 mile National Hunt Chase at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival and he has a strong each way fancy for the Neil Mulholland trained Southfield Royale.

The National Hunt Chase over 4miles is quite often won by the best horse going into the race*. It’s an easy race to get a run in, so often attracts a big field, but many without reasonable chances. Only a few ‘good horses’ turn up. This year Southfield Royale is guaranteed to be one of the top rated runners, it is confirmed as his target and he has shown plenty already that convinces me this test is ideal for him.

*2012 winner Teaforthree was clear top rated on 146. Cause of Causes was also 146 when just 148 was top rated. Shotgun Paddy when 2nd was clear top rated on 151. Back in Focus off 150 was another top rated winner; he beat the 2nd top rated 149 Tofino Bay. Even old Chicago Grey was top rated back when he won.

Southfield Royale - In just 5 hurdle starts (won his sole bumper) he achieved a rating of 139. A decent level. He won twice over 2m4f but it was really fences and 3miles that has taken him to the next level.

Beaten 0.5L on his seasonal reappearance, where he’d have found 2m3f far too sharp for him and as per most of Mulholland’s, he probably wasn’t even close to peak fitness. He followed that with an easy 20L victory at Wetherby. Zeroshadesofgrey was a distant second. Whilst Zero didn’t really take to fences, he showed his engine by winning off 138 back over hurdles. Well behind in third at Wetherby was Beg to Differ, who ran a fine race on his handicap debut off 133 recently. For 130 & 140 odd horses to be dismissed so easily says plenty about SR.

SR went to Doncaster next where again he won easily. This time Coologue was well beaten (13L) in second. He since finished second in the SkyBet chase off 139. Just like at Wetherby, Southfield Royale ran to a mark of 150+ in my opinion. His official mark is currently 147.

Winning over 3m on heavy is pretty much as good a test of stamina as we can have with Festival bound novices. There’s not too many races for them beyond 3miles.

The sharper track on better ground didn’t play to SR’s strengths at Kempton on Boxing Day. He still performed with great credit to take second in the G1 Feltham. Tea For Two had too much zip for him over the last furlong and won by 4L. Native River was the same distance behind SR and the rest were nowhere. It’s strong form. The classy Tea for Two was ideally suited to the test Kempton presented. There’ll be nothing like him around when Southfield Royale jumps 2out in the 4miler. At Kempton Southfield Royale jumped out to his left at many, if not all the fences. Obviously not ideal at a sharp right-handed track. Jumping straight would be most desirable but if he’s going to jump left, doing so at Cheltenham is far better than doing so at Kempton where all combined he would’ve lost a few lengths over the 3miles.

Ignoring his debut where there were obvious excuses, Southfield Royale has ran to a very high level each time he’s seen the racecourse during his novice chase campaign. He appears to have bags of stamina, the ability to handle both good and soft ground, and plenty of chasing experience with very few mistakes.

He holds an RSA entry also but as per a news report in January, Neil Mulholland said the 4mile National Hunt Chase would be the plan. Mulholland is an improving trainer who has already bagged a few big winners with his small but growing string. He recognises the likes of No More Heroes and More of That would just have an extra touch of class his guy doesn’t. He’s plenty good enough to win a 4miler though.

Entered in the Towton Novice Chase at Warwick on Saturday. A good performance there could see his odds for this race tumble by a few points. Blacklion and/or Native River may just have too much for him on Saturday but both are likely to head for the RSA with a genuine chance. Bitofapuzzle and Vyta du Roc are also entered at Warwick so it’s a very strong field. Neither of those two will be stepping up to 4miles anytime soon.

Willie Mullins doesn’t have a real genuine RSA horse as it stands. His best 3m chaser is possibly Black Hercules. He’s as short as 11/4 for this and whilst it is his likely destination, so Patrick can ride, it’s far from set in stone. The same goes for Roi des Francs. His form entitles him to go for the RSA and it is worth remembering Gigginstown did run two in the RSA last year.

Even if Black Hercules does run here, I’m not convinced he wants 4miles. He showed loads of zip attacking his fences at Warwick last time. A more laid back ‘popping’ approach would suit in the National Hunt Chase. Whilst possibly irrelevant it is worth remembering he flopped at the Festival last year.

Rule the World is next in the betting and he’ll have tonnes of options including the Irish National 2wks later. Native River is (hopefully) RSA bound. So too are Blacklion and Seeyouatmidnight. Both Outlander and Pont Alexandre would be better suited to the 2m5f JLT trip than the 3m RSA in my opinion so a step-up to 4miles certainly doesn’t appeal. Noble Endeavour is well handicapped and it is unlikely Gordon will have missed that. Sambremont doesn’t look anywhere near good enough.

Local Show is a possible runner. He stays well and is open to plenty of improvement. After that it’s 20/1 bar. We’ve only around 4 likely runners below that price. As such the 11/1 best price about Southfield Royale is screaming to be taken. At bigger prices, and confirmed on target for the race, the likes of Shantou Flyer and Ballychorus could run well for Ireland but neither have form like Southfield Royale. In a market yet to truly develop I’m eager to get the rock solid one onside each way now.

Advised Bet

2 points each way Southfield Royale at 11/1 with Bet365